Youthquake requires older adults wake up!

Teenagers public speaking with passion about important topics is often given very little airtime by adult media
Teenagers public speaking with passion about important topics is often given very little airtime by adult media

It’s official – youthquake is the word of the year, declares Oxford Dictionaries. This comes as a result of the word’s resurgence since it was first coined in the ‘60s to describe sudden changes in fashion, music and attitudes by Vogue Fashion Editor Diana Vreeland. This time around it’s because of young people driving political change in June’s general election.

The Washington Post carried this headline on their website on Friday: The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is a word nobody actually uses. Maybe, but I would argue that it will increasingly come into use. To quote “Each year, the winning word is expected to reflect the mood or ethos of the past 12 months”. It certainly rings true with me, and here’s why.

Bella's political statement (2)

During a lazy Sunday afternoon in November, I watched this 8-year-old girl get industrious with Lego. She drew me into her activity when she expressed frustration that she couldn’t find any orange hair amongst the pieces. When she explained what she was creating I understood and suggested that any random evil character would do: “This is a wall and this is Donald Trump trying to keep Mexicans out. And here is a Mexican about to climb the wall.” She’s 8! When I thought no good can ever come of Trump’s presidency or indeed Brexit, I realise that I have heard more primary schoolchildren talking politics since June 2016 than I had ever thought possible. Hard to believe it will be 10 years before she can express her opinion with a vote!

A second reason youthquake resonates, is that in the last two months, I was privileged to be part of coaching three teams of teenagers as they prepared to speak passionately on subjects of their choice at Rotary’s Youth Speaks 2018.

Unspoken Crises Team 2017

This team, pictured left, with myself and UTC vice-principal, Glen Young, spoke of Unspoken Crises – how the disasters and terrorism around the world are overtaken on social media by stories of the Kardashians and other celebrity gossip. Two of them have been part of holding assemblies and fundraising for the crisis in Rohingya where thousands of Muslims have been persecuted and fled to neighbouring Bangladesh while enduring rape and murder of their loved ones.

The second team (below right) spoke of The Colombian Sloth Trade – I hadn’t known there was such a thing – and called us to be a part of ending it through choices we make, especially on social media. The third speech was about the Psychology of Music, and while not political, gave great food for thought as we were asked to think about where else the healing and enhancing power of music could be used.

Colombian Sloth Trade

The audience response, mainly consisting of younger people, was very positive. The winning speech, however, while polished and well-delivered, was about the advantages and disadvantages of social media – a variation of which I have heard every year for the past 5 at Youth Speaks competitions. I couldn’t help wondering if the result had any bearing on the demographics of the local judges, none of whom were non-white or young – not that this means they’re going to be out of touch with international politics but it does mean they’re less likely to engage with it or to know people of other cultures. It would be wonderful to see panels that are more representative of the general population of our increasingly diverse nation.

If you’re an adult who wants to be part of this youthquake, though support or influence, what are you doing about it? Do you engage with young people at schools and colleges near you? Consider what you could do to bridge the gap between generations –  a gap that is the widest it’s ever been due to technological advances and migration.

Psychology of Music Team 2017

Can spare a couple of hours a month or year? You could volunteer to be a judge on a  panel for the several competitions that Rotary organise throughout the year. Or what about being part of a Careers event? A call to your local secondary school will put you in touch with someone who will put your willingness and enthusiasm to good use. An associate, who recognised my passion for getting young people to speak out, suggested Youth Speak to me 5 years ago and I immediately started enquiries to introduce it to a school in West Berkshire, with exciting results. I’m now delighted that I’ve been invited to be a judge for next year’s Primary Schools Poetry Competition, although I have no affiliation with Rotary. It’s just another way of seeing the next generation build confidence in public speaking.

In the meanwhile, even if it’s engaging with the children and teenagers of your friends, ask them what they think of the latest headline news and be amazed by how interested and informed they are or use the opportunity to ask them their opinion about something you’ve read or heard. Even the choice of the latest Royal Wedding date as a Saturday is grounds for a good political discussion!

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